Pastor Profile: Bishop Leon Martin
Church: Love, Peace and Happiness Church
How Long: 43 years
Hometown: Houston, Texas
Family: Married 44-years to Jacqueline Martin, 3 Children, 8 Grandchildren
Radio Program: KJLH, Saturdays, 7am
What led you to establish Love, Peace & Happiness Church in 1974?
I just felt the call of God. I had just finished Bible college and worked in my previous church, Ephesian Church of God in Christ (Berkeley, CA) under the leadership of Bishop E.E. Cleveland, Sr. as the youth pastor and state president of the second jurisdiction. I was one of the system pastors at that church as well.
And how long had you been working in church leadership?
Since I was 18. I’m originally from Houston, Texas and that’s where I accepted my calling to ministry at 16. I came to California to go to Life Bible College and did four years of training ministry there. I went to UCLA for two or three years and studied law and from there, I attended Friends University where I received my doctorate.
You said school helped you to define your calling, what did you define it as?
Originally I wanted to be a traveling evangelist, but I was miserable in the process. I found that my passion was for people and developing them. Personal evangelism outreach—that’s my emphasis today and we’ve been developing our ministry and publically making an impact on our community.
Where did the ministry originate: Norwalk or LA?
This ministry originated in my home in Compton with about four people. As it grew I asked a friend of mine, the late superintendent, Harold Connity, if I could start holding my Sunday morning services at his church on Saturday night.
Was it difficult getting people to come to church on Saturday night?
Not if you have something to offer. We presented a good program. We were excited, young and had a lot of tenthusiasm. Then all of a sudden a door came open for us in Los Angeles near Huntington Park on a street called Walnut Drive. Several pastors had informed me that it was known as a preacher’s graveyard, because about five or six pastors had been there and never could grow their church so I took on the challenge.
We cleaned the place up and it was amazing how we began to grow that church with some intensive evangelism and soul wining. We went out on Saturdays and just began to teach the unchurched, the untaught, the uncommitted.
People had a hard time finding the church so I started running buses throughout the community. I was the very first bus driver. We started with one bus, and ended up with five or six buses. The Sunday school got up to 800. My building wasn’t that large so we had Sunday school on the sidewalks, made classrooms out of the buses and used the park facilities.
How did you get to Norwalk?
I moved from Walnut to Manchester. We bought the whole block of Manchester and Menlo—right near Vermont. Then we went through a financial challenge and with all the permits and all the particulars, and a dry spell in our church. So I just walked into my congregation, one Sunday and I told them, I must have missed God. Because it shouldn’t take us this long to build a church and I walked away from everything.
You stopped preaching?
Not stopped preaching, I just stopped focusing in on that area as far as the property and went into some serious prayer. I called a friend and asked if he had a church? He said, ‘I was at the gym and some guy walked up to me and asked me if I knew anybody that needed a church?’ He brought me here and met the guy and that’s how I ended up in Norwalk. I’ve been here now about 15 years, but in the meantime I started a church in Rialto.
I had a couple of members who lived out there, and they said, ‘Pastor, you need to come.’ I went out there with two people and started a church there in a hotel and it began to grow. Then we found a space in a little shopping center and I would preach at the church in LA and then drive all the way to Rialto and have service. The next thing I know the place began to fill up. My key was outreach. I always built my churches through evangelism and outreach. That membership got up to about 350 and I appointed that church to my son.
So your son followed you into ministry?
Yes. When I released the Rialto church to my son, I was comfortable just being in Downey. Then all of a sudden the Lord put it in my spirit to go back to L.A. A friend called me and said he was having some financial problems with his building and needed my help financially. I said okay, I’m going to do this under one condition: if you will allow me to hold a service there on Sunday. I started the L.A. church with nobody and in one year that place was overflowing.
Is that the church that’s now on Figueroa?
Yes, we’ve been there for about five years, on 50th and Figueroa. That still is a baby church. I built that church for about five years and then I felt the need to go to Compton. I’m holding services at the Mount Pilgrim Baptist Church with Rev. Richard Sanders. I’ve been there about two and half years and started with one member and now the church is growing and picking up momentum.
What keeps you going?
You can’t do this unless you have a sincere heart for the work of God. It’s a lot of work but what blesses me is to have a person come in one way and then see the transformation in their lives. I had a young man who blessed me on Sunday with his testimony.
He said, ‘I was the guy who pushed a grocery cart. That guy who worked at a service station to wash your windows and slept under the bridge. The guy who jumped into the trash bin to eat the left over hamburgers at McDonalds, but I came to this church and I changed my life.’
Now he is a supervisor at a restaurant. He went back to Trade Tech and got his culinary degree. He’s married and has a beautiful family. These are the kind of things that keep me going.
What in your service that causes them to change their lives?
It's the power and the word of God. I tell them you give me one year—that's all I ask for and their lives will change. There’s a simplicity. I teach in a way they can understand it the promises of God and the blessings He intended for us. The Bible says the power of man has blinded our minds so you can’t see, but once you come into the knowledge of God then the scales fall from your eyes and you begin to see.
Are there other ways that you engage people other than the word?
Yes. Right now I am planning a financial empowerment workshop for those who want to become homeowners, those who want to start a non-profit, or those who need credit repair—things I know will help my people. We take them from the spiritual to help them in the natural aspect because that is what they need. I believe in the total man.
What is your preaching style?
I’m a teacher preacher. I’m a people person. I know most of my members by name, I stand at the door and I greet them after service. I have a beautiful relationship with all my members. I give them my cell number but I tell them how to use it.
How did you receive the call?
I come from a line of ministers. I have two or three uncles who were bishops in the COGIC church. I have six brothers and one sister and four of us are pastors. My sister works with T.D. Jakes. My mother told us boys that she was raising us up to be preachers of the gospel.
What would people be surprised to find out about you?
I’m under the radar, I don't bother nobody and very seldom do people hear about me, but I’m comfortable with who I am doing what I was assigned to do. So I’m not seeking the approval of man as long as God is pleased with what I’m doing.